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Meet Maima


Maima is one of those kids that can eat an incredible amount of food. Last time we ate lunch together I was sure to order her pepper soup; one of the biggest meals on the menu. It’s a small mountain of food with one bowl housing about four cups of rice and a second bowl overflowing with a peppery broth containing every kind of meat and fish you can think of —the perfect meal for this growing girl’s vivacious appetite. As we both started mining away at our ridiculously large lunches I was curious to see how Maima would tackle it.

You see, Maima has a serious disadvantage when it comes to eating these days— she can only open her mouth three millimeters wide. This is the side effect of an illness Maima contacted when she was nine-years old.

I didn’t know Maima when she first got sick, but by the time I met her she had severe swelling in her lower face and the infection was draining out of four exit points in her jaw.  Her mouth was already locked shut, but thanks to two molars that had recently fallen out she had a few convenient spots to insert food through. This year those molars have filled in.

On the day of our pepper soup lunch Maima had to focus on eating the soft foods that she could squeeze through the narrow opening.  When she eats she does a subtle rolling action with her lips to help slip the food under her front teeth— it doesn’t look easy.

Maima_perscriptionI’ve been working on getting help for Maima for over a year now, but it’s been a slow process. We’ve gone to see a few specialists that were passing through Liberia, but a definitive diagnosis was never given. Fortunately a local doctor was able to get the infection under control and Maima made it through her most vulnerable moments.

Now that Liberia has been declared Ebola free, Maima has renewed hope. Thanks to a kind doctor with the UN, Maima now has a complete medical history of her illness compiled in a paper and electronic format.  I have also managed to develop a connection with an organization that does medical missions and there is a distinct possibility that a surgeon in the United States might be able to help her.

Before my new lead will consider Maima’s case they need to see a CT scan. Since Liberia’s medical system can’t provide this we have to send her to Ghana to get the image done. Just this week I got a referral to a hospital in Accra, so I’m currently working on getting the appointment organized and arranging for her passport.

Maima_Landis_close copy

At the moment Maima is a thin girl, but she is lively and healthy. There is a part of me that thinks this is the reality of life in Liberia and she needs to find a way to cope long term, but then I think about what it would be like to only open my mouth three millimeters and I feel compelled to do what I can to help her. (Picture is of Maima and I both opening our mouths as wide as we can)

Think about all those times when you’ve had a head cold and you wake up in the night with your mouth wide open because you can’t breath through your nose. Take a moment right now and allow your jaw to open just a tiny bit then try to breath out of your mouth—it’s not pleasant.

Maima and her aunt are keen to sort this out, so I’m going to continue to do what I can. I’m still not sure if Maima is going to get the help she needs, but after a year and a half of trying I finally feel like we have some momentum. Maima would be grateful for a few positive thoughts and prayers right now and since I happen to be tapped in to the most amazing group of kind-hearted people I thought I pass along her request. If we all focus on Maima getting well perhaps it really will happen.


How big is your trash pile?

To my dear loyal blog followers (who I have neglected for so long),

I want to begin my resurgence into my life as a blogger by acknowledging that I have let Facebook come between us.  It’s simply just too easy to post a picture, write a few lines and convey a great story. Actually, while I’m doling out excuses I’ll also mention that whenever I think of writing a blog I immediately develop this acute need to produce something profound. During a busy week of work this need for brain wrenching profoundness inevitably squashes my urge to write within seconds.

Excuses aside, I must warn you that although my posts may now lack depth, they will give you a sense of day-to-day life in Liberia and hopefully the occasional chuckle. But enough chit-chat, let’s start this off with a BANG by talking about my garbage!

Each time I go grocery shopping I really have to think twice before I buy, for example, a tetra-pack of juice because I know exactly where that tetra-pack is going.  It’s going directly to an overflowing dumpster down the road from my house that’s located right in front of a market where people sell food, children play and the stench of garbage fills the air.


To reduce our contribution to this festering pile of trash, the first thing I do is avoid buying heavily packaged items, then we focus on dividing our garbage into four categories: burnable, compostable, reusable and trash. We keep a burning drum in our yard that gets fired up every few weeks, two compost piles that get turned into soil for our garden and two big garbage pails that contain reusable items and the “true” trash.

The reusable pail consists of cans, jars with lids, glass bottles and plastic squeeze bottles. These items then get deposited beside the dumpster so the people who are looking for reusable items can easily go through it and pick out the things they want.

The recyclers either take the containers home to reuse themselves or they take the valuable ones to the new “reuse it” center where the items get resold. Water bottles are used for selling palm oil in, mayonnaise containers for selling locally made pepper sauces, and beer bottles are sold to people in need of a sharp security layer on top of their concrete fence. Even the containers from Liberia Pure Honey are part of the resalable system as they are often seen in the grocery stores with plantain chips inside.

The true trash is a real bummer. Since we have a car we can drive our trash to the dumpster, but so many people can’t and it ends up littering the streets, yards and alleyways. Garbage is everywhere here. Part of me thinks that’s not such a bad thing. When your garbage can’t go “away” and you have to look at it everyday as it really makes you think twice about what you buy.

Since I’m fighting the urge to turn this into some sort of profound conversation I’m going to stop right here and leave you with one question­– how big is your pile of garbage?




UOF team

The UOF team in Liberia


I’m rather confident that I’m the first person to make a donation UOF’s “Stop Ebola Now” campaign. In fact I’m 100% confident, because the campaign is still about 12 hours away from being launched.

Right now I’m in Canada longer than I expected due to the Ebola crisis in Liberia. As I watch my savings rapidly dwindle in this wonderful yet pricey country, I’m ready to continue parting with my hard earned cash because I’m seriously worried for my friends and coworkers as well as the communities I work in. It’s truly a desperate time.

And truth be known, I’m also a bit embarrassed, so I am making the donation to our campaign as an act of faith in myself and the people I work with. Let me explain.

When the second Ebola outbreak started I put my faith in others and trusted that organizations with medical backgrounds would be able to manage the crisis. I should have realized the magnitude of the situation when one of the first replies I got to a “who is working where” email came back with an attachment containing instructions for setting up a containment unit and the question, “Can you do this?”

Every organization has its strengths and we certainly have ours, but at that moment I didn’t feel that setting up a unit to contain a deadly virus was in the scope of our expertise.

My concern was eased when I heard that health care volunteers were being trained for Ebola awareness in the county where the school we work with is located. With the community taken care of, I decided to focus on UOF’s plan to help the Liberia recover after the crisis passes. It’s going to take a lot of resources to get things back on track and I wanted to start getting programs in place. I was still hopeful this would all end soon.

But over time, when these health care volunteers didn’t materialize, we turned to our staff. We asked them if they wanted to participate in the fight against Ebola, what the current needs are, if they feel safe taking action, and if they need us on the ground to help. They decided that they wanted to move on this and they felt confident doing it without us there.

Before I digress too far, let’s get back to my embarrassment. UOF has done some amazing things over the past seven years in Liberia – things I never thought were possible – so my feelings of regret/embarrassment/frustration stem from the fact that I looked to others to solve this problem and I didn’t look within sooner.

But, I also remind myself that it’s okay. It’s okay because everyone’s backbone is stronger right now and our ability to act with confidence is greater. We know what to do, we know that no one else is going to do it (in the communities we work in) and we know how best to go about it.

It’s important to start strategizing for life after Ebola, but if this virus doesn’t get controlled soon its going to be a long time before we’ll be able to start putting the pieces back together. Kent and I weigh up the reality and effectiveness of our return to Liberia everyday. As soon as we feel things are turning around we’ll be back, but in the meantime we’re focused on helping the families and communities we know get the resources they need to keep themselves safe during this terrible time.

There is a sense of hope within me and the people I work with as we start working to turn this situation around. And at a time like this, a sense of hope is a powerful thing.